Robert E. Lee's surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House evokes a highly gratifying image in the popular mind—it was, many believe, a moment that transcended politics, a moment of healing, a moment of patriotism untainted by ideology. But as Elizabeth Varon reveals in her latest book, this rosy image conceals a seething debate over precisely what the surrender meant and what kind of nation would emerge from war. In Appomattox, she deftly captures the events swirling around that well remembered—but not well understood—moment when the Civil War ended. Did America's best days lie in the past or in the future? For Lee, it was the past, the era of the founding generation. For Grant, it was the future, represented by northern moral and material progress. They held, in the end, two opposite views of the direction of the country—and of the meaning of the war that had changed the country forever.

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